Saturn’s Moon Shows Signs of Alien Life Under Icy Surface
New research made by NASA scientists suggests that Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus may be harboring a hot ocean under its surface. According to experts, they have found the evidence of possible hydrothermal activity on Enceladus that means the moon could be habitable.
The above observations come through NASA’s Cassini spacecraft which has been investigating Saturn since 2004. The spacecraft detected rocky grains on Enceladus believed to have formed as a result of chemical reactions between hot water and rock.
In other words, the existence of these particles indicates ongoing hydrothermal activity which happens when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust, and then emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution — a naturally occurring process in the deep oceans on Earth.
The lead author of the research paper, Sean Hsu, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said that the tiny grains from the moon’s rocky interior reveal a lot about the “conditions on – and beneath – the ocean floor” of Enceladus.
“We report an analysis of silicon-rich, nanometre-sized dust particles (so-called stream particles) that stand out from the water-ice-dominated objects characteristic of Saturn,” Hsu and his colleagues wrote for the March 11 issue of the scientific journal Nature.
“We interpret these grains as nanometre-sized SiO2 (silica) particles, initially embedded in icy grains emitted from Enceladus’ subsurface waters and released by sputter erosion in Saturn’s E ring.”
Hsu also noted that the water of the icy moon should be 190 degrees Fahrenheit for such kind of chemical reactions to be feasible.
The researchers performed numerous detailed laboratory experiments which led them to the conclusion that the tiny grains are most likely to form when hot water containing dissolved minerals from the interior of the moon travels upward and comes into contact the relatively cold water at the ocean bottom. That validated the hydrothermal activity hypothesis taking place on the seafloor of Enceladus.
“We methodically searched for alternate explanations for the nanosilica grains, but every new result pointed to a single, most likely origin,” said co-author Frank Postberg, a Cassini CDA team scientist at Heidelberg University, Germany.
John Grunsfeld, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate associate administrator, said the findings are a great advancement that could help with humanity’s quest in finding out the existence of alien life in the universe.
“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” Grunsfeld said. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the Universe.”